Clearing Space for what looks like Death

As I write this, it’s the “Time of Corona”— a season of global fear and pandemic, and my words have gotten jammed in my throat.

The chaos of the present moment keeps getting to me, no matter how I feel I have my feet securely under me one moment, the next I hear something else—another piece of news, another friend with a loved one who is dying, another hard-won business potentially being forced to close their doors—and the rug is ripped out from under me all over again.

I am on the pendulum swing. One day, completely fine as I scrub and clean and prepare food for my hungry children. The next day, an anxious woman weeping over the dishes she can’t seem to remember how to load in the dishwasher.

Last week I was such a woman, when my husband suggested I go outside and get some fresh air in the back yard.

“It’ll be good for you.” He said. And for once, I didn’t argue.

I shoved my feet in my old leather boots and grabbed my gardening gloves and spade in one hand, and the bag of sprouting garlic in the other.

And kneeling in the dirt, I found myself grounded like I haven’t been in weeks. I felt the tethers of my heart returning once again to the earth beneath my feet—my place to keep and tend as my favorite contemporary author Christie Purifoy would say. I feel the simplicity of clearing the weeds, smoothing the earth, digging a hole, placing the garlic in sprout side up. I remember that it is not for me to make it grow, but only to tend in faithfulness, the things which are mine to tend.

As an empath and a helper—the massive and un-meetable needs of the world right now are paralyzing. But I realize last week in the dirt, that what I am being asked to do is really quite simple.

Be here. Sow these seeds. Water this plant. Trim this hedge. Rake the neglected leaves. Cut back. Clear space.

Those are the words that kept coming to me all while I worked in the garden. Clear space.

And I am reminded of John the Baptists proclamation, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Prepare. Make way. Clear space.

What they thought they were to make was a highway for Messiah to overturn Roman rule. To be their triumphant warrior king who would once and for all squash those who had squashed them.

But instead, what was needed was a path to the cross—and space in a borrowed tomb for the Son of God to be sown like these seeds I plant in the earth.

It didn’t matter how many times he told his disciples that he had to die. It still came as a surprise. It doesn’t matter how many times we read the verse, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) —in times of pandemic and crisis, in one of the most well insulated countries in the world, it comes as quite a shock.

In the midst of this so much is being stripped away. We no longer believe we are invincible. Mortality knocks on every door. Fear holds us in its mighty grip. Loneliness is a mantle we wear when we rise in the morning.

But in my garden all this doesn’t feel as much like a loss. It feels like clearing space. Pulling up the weeds that have already started to grow though it’s barely April. Pull out the grass that seeded itself in the garden bed where it never belonged. Stir up the dirt and add the well-rotted compost, and make sure it’s fertile for all the good that will grow here.

I have dirt under my fingernails. Clear space. I hear the whisper.

And in my heart I know it; that even in the midst of losses piling up all around my feet, that my God remains. Here in this space when so much else feels like it is being taken away—even as we grieve those who are sick, who have died in the midst of this pandemic (whether from the virus or not), God is still here.

God is reminding me that what he sows will take root. Every space that feels empty and lost can be filled with more of him. And Good Friday reminds me that what is sown in terrible and devastating loss, is reaped to a new and fruitful life, For:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:23 ESV

Maybe today I am being asked to clear space, for what looks like death.

We are told we will have trouble. Our Savior King road into Jerusalem in the triumph that the crowd expected of someone who could raise Lazarus from the dead—

“HOSANNA!” They shouted “Save us Now! O King of ISRAEL!”

Jesus hears the cries of his people. He answers our pleas for salvation in a way they did not, and still do not expect. Even the smallest among us question his methods.

“I didn’t know that…” she said, “that a King, would come to die?” The words of my then five-year-old-daughter Ellie. So obsessed with fairy tales and stories of Kings and Queens that she was properly amazed to discover the King of all the Universe let himself be killed for love of her.

“HOSANNA! Save us Now!” We shout. In the midst of this global crisis—the stench of death surrounding us.

The cross was not at all what they had in mind. But it is the very foundation of the life we live in the upside-down Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that God has been pointing to since the days that Adam, only just cast from the perfect Garden which had been his home, now was forced to clear space just as I do in this garden bed—making room for the seeds that look like death—believing that they will grow to a new and resurrected life.

Today is Good Friday. And the tension is all there in the name: How we call a day “good” that an innocent man was murdered and made to be crushed under the weight of all our sin, our diseases, and everything that makes this world so intolerably crushing. How his friends wept! This day looked to them like nothing more than death.

But God knew that this seed he was planting would raise more than itself to eternal life. The disciples could not have imagined the Harvest of Life that would come through the God’s own Son breaking the power of Death by his death.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 ESV (Emphasis mine)

Spring is coming

I had a dream last night that my daughter was making paper mache at church. Her hands and face were covered with the sticky white glue/water/flour mixture. For a Mom of a child with severe gluten sensitivity, this was an actual nightmare.

It’s been seven weeks since her last flare up. It’s been a long hard season, but it feels like maybe we are getting towards the end of it…? I’m always afraid to say that. Like maybe I’ll be jinxing it somehow. Maybe I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

But part of me is almost ready to dare to hope. To hope that maybe this season of intense hardship is ending. Maybe we have done a better job keeping her safe. Maybe we are finally figuring some things out. Maybe there isn’t another shoe hanging above our heads, but just the same shoe at our feet: that she has severe issues with gluten. And maybe it’s celiac and maybe it’s not.

We were told by the pediatric gastroenterologist that we will not be able to get a celiac diagnosis, even if we did a scope, because she has been on the gluten free diet for so long already. 

“Even though she’s still been having flare ups?” I said.

“You could make a case for it,” she said, “but I don’t think it would show up definitively, no.”

She said the only way to get a celiac diagnosis would be to feed her gluten for six weeks straight and then do a scope. 

You can probably guess what my answer to that was. 

Heck NO.

I am not so obsessed with answers that I will purposely hurt my child to get them. 

I am not so obsessed with control that I will break the well earned trust that she has built into me, that what I cook for her, to the best of my knowledge and ability, will not make her sick.

I do not need answers that badly. 

It helps that she’s doing better. Right now, that feels like answer enough. 

She still has tummy aches from time to time, a few every week. I try to keep on top of her enzyme as best I can. I make sure to follow rigorous hand washing when we go anywhere and I wipe down a table before she sits there.

I don’t take her down the aisles with bulk bins and I warn her not to touch the open baskets of bread at the grocery store. I don’t take her to Willy’s hockey games anymore; that was the tragic scene that we are fairly certain caused her last flare up. Gold fish cracker crumbs littered the bleachers, and who knows what other specks that could not be seen. It was probably just a few too many small exposures in one day.

No matter how we covered her hands with her sleeves, I laid out a blanket for her to sit on, she washed hands repeatedly during and after our time there as well as changed her clothes the moment we got home. I thought I had thought of everything. But then next day when she woke up sick, I remembered the dog licking her face. I hadn’t accounted for that. Most dog food contains gluten of course, and I would never let a person who just ate a slice of bread lick her face.

So we try to be careful of that now too. 

It could be easy to start feeling sorry for myself, but when I think back to that season of intense suffering that has only appeared to end a few weeks ago, I remember to give thanks for the little girl with the strength to be sassy to me about how “unfair” it is that she can’t eat/touch/do XYZ. 

It’s understandable she’s upset. But the fact that she calls it unfair and doesn’t automatically shy from that thing in fear, just goes to show how the Lord is healing and protecting her little psyche as well as her body. She is forgetting how bad it all is, and I am okay with that.

Maybe that’s what this in-between season is all about. Learning to be okay. Learning to live with the unresolved. The lack of answers. The lack of certainty about whether or not what we are doing is working, or if it’s something else all together. Time may reveal some of these. But either way; God is with us in the middle places just as he was with us in the darkest nights.

My youngest child has always been a good sleeper, but these past few weeks he’s taken to waking multiple times at night again like he did when he was a newborn. I could bemoan this fact, or I could thank God that he’s doing this now and not while I was dealing with a daughter in flare up in the middle of the night.

A friend has needed temporary childcare help with her sweet 2 year old daughter, and though adding a fourth kid, five and under, does make some things (like a trip to the grocery store) a little more interesting, it’s also just so amazing to me that God has orchestrated this timing. If this had happened a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to help.

Another friend’s daughter has been in the hospital for the past four weeks; they just finally moved her out of the ICU. And the thought in my mind and heart is that I’m so glad I can offer my help in some small way. Watching your daughter suffer is no easy task, I know it in new ways now that I hope help me to be a compassionate companion.

And you Dear Reader, I am working hard for you; like I’ve never worked before. If you would like to be one of the first to receive my (almost finished) FREE DOWNLOAD: Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering, just click here to sign up, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll deliver it to your inbox.

In Colorado we are transitioning—from winter to spring. And it comes slowly here, where we often still get snow even through the month of May. But the crocuses are opening in the morning light. The tulips and the daffodils are emerging from the front beds that I neglected to clear of leaves last fall. The chorus of birdsong now greets me and my morning cup of coffee. And the clearest sign; the delicious light that lingers over me as I prepare supper in the evenings.

Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of winter’s chill, this time does feel like a change in the air. Like the spring that we hoped for might be just around the corner, after all.

It’s almost time to plant some seeds.

Miraculous Asparagus

I discovered what the mystery plant was. In my garden, right next to the Northern fence, stood a small little patch of something that at first I thought looked like dill. It was in a raised bed, and I could tell that it had been planted there, but day after day I looked at this strange plant that kept growing taller, with thin, fern like leaves, then red berries in the fall…and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I asked a few friends, a few people more skilled in gardening than myself. But they couldn’t tell me what it was either.

But I knew it must be something. So I watered and I watched. I staked it to the fence when it got so tall that it fell over. And when fall came, and still I had no clue, like any self-respecting gardener, I decided I’d wait till spring to either 1) figure out what the heck it was or 2) to pull it up and plant cucumbers there instead.

It was with no small degree of shock, elation and unreasonable joy then this spring when I looked over towards that northern garden bed to see this growing where my then still un-pruned, mystery plant had been.

IMG_1044.jpg

I never would have guessed. Not in a thousand years. My mystery plant, was actually asparagus. I LOVE asparagus. (Photo taken after I gleefully cleaned out that northern garden bed.)

See that little fern-y, dilly looking plant right behind that gorgeous asparagus? Apparently, that’s what asparagus look like the first year they come up. They go through an awkward “ferned out” phase, during which the plant gather all the nutrients it needs for the next year’s asparagus. And each year they multiply and they grow and the “asparagus” portion of the plant’s life, gets longer and longer.

Maybe you already know all this. But being the complete nubie gardener that I am, I found it all so miraculous and amazing. And there I was, two weeks after I found that patch of asparagus that had always been there, that once again I was reaping what I hadn’t sown.

And I was eating it for breakfast. (With scrambled eggs and chèvre goat cheese, delicious!)

And it reminds me of the Gospel, how through what Jesus did for us on the cross, we get to reap exactly what we HAVEN’T sown, and what a grace it is. What JOY in reaping the exact opposite of what we have sown. His righteousness, the fruit of His life, accredited to us in the place of the destruction of our sin.

And the other thing: maybe this blog is in an awkward ‘ferned out’ phase. And maybe, just maybe, we don’t really  know what it is yet. And it’s getting propped against the northern fence. And it’s still getting watered when I think of it, and maybe before very long, like a brilliant AHA! moment, it will be there.

And I’ll be like, ‘YES! So that’s what it was all along!’ And you’ll nod along amiably that I finally figured it out, and together we’ll be nurtured and nourished by what we haven’t sown, by what we haven’t understood, because together we gave it the time it needed to become.

So Dear Reader, if you are still here, if you are still listening… Thank you. I’ve been on Sabbatical for three months, and still you read something in your inbox that came from that weird lady who keeps trying to force herself to commit to writing about something consistently, but she can’t quite seem to figure out what.

Some days we cultivate. Others, we harvest the fruit. And always, there’s the waiting in between.

I’ve re-dubbed this blog “Cultivating a Fruitful Life”, because that’s what I want to do. And that’s what I want to help you do to. By God’s grace, for His glory. We were made to bear fruit. And because I haven’t known just what this blog wants to be yet, consider this your fair warning that it might not always be what you’ve come to expect anymore. I want to share spiritual truths, I want to encourage you to live boldly into the individual calling that God has placed on your life. I also want to encourage you as you pursue fruitfulness in some of the more physical ways that I have found the Lord uses to shepherd my heart in my own life. Things like gardening, making jam, brewing kombucha, milking a goat, cooking a delicious meal for your crew. (Most of that will probably happen on my newly titled Instagram account @gracieishomesteady if you are interested.)

So consider this your fair warning; this blog may be entering a highly experimental phase. It’s ferned out. It doesn’t even know what it is yet, and that’s okay.

Is your life feeling like a ferned out asparagus? Not sure what it wants to be yet? Or maybe you know, but you’re just in a season of long waiting. I’d love to hear from you. As well as if you have topic praises/critiques/requests. Just leave a comment below.

Praying for you, dear reader. That something here will help you to cultivate a fruitful life, that you and those around you may reap that harvest, by God’s grace and for His glory.